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Ruiz v. Stephens

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

February 21, 2017

ROLANDO RUIZ, Petitioner-Appellant
v.
WILLIAM STEPHENS, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS DIVISION, Respondent-Appellee

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio

          Before HIGGINBOTHAM, DENNIS, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.

          PATRICK E. HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judge.

         Rolando Ruiz murdered Theresa Rodriguez for remuneration on July 14, 1992, a crime for which he has been convicted and sentenced to death. In the two decades since, Ruiz has enjoyed the full benefit of the procedural protections of the laws of the United States and the State of Texas. With less than a month before his execution, Ruiz returns to this Court, asserting that we were in error in determining that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had denied his Wiggins claims on the merits rather than based on state procedural grounds. Unpersuaded, we deny the motion to recall mandate.

         I.

         After his direct appeals, Ruiz filed his first state application for a writ of habeas corpus on September 15, 1997.[1] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief in an unpublished opinion on April 2, 2003.[2] On February 18, 2004, Ruiz filed his first federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Western District of Texas, asserting various claims including, for the first time, Wiggins[3] claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.[4] The district court correctly determined that those claims were unexhausted and denied relief.[5]We affirmed that decision and denied a certificate of appealability.[6]

         Ruiz subsequently returned to the state courts to press his Wiggins claims. In 2007, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an unpublished opinion denying relief, [7] with a four-judge plurality characterizing the petition as an abuse of the writ, as well as a separate statement by Judge Womack and a dissenting statement by Judge Holcomb. Ruiz then returned to the federal district court under Rule 60(b), requesting that court set aside its earlier denial of relief and arguing that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision dismissing his second state habeas petition was a decision on the merits.[8] The district court determined that "[b]ecause the state appellate court dismissed petitioner's second state habeas application on state writ-abuse principles, petitioner has procedurally defaulted on those claims for purposes of federal habeas review."[9]

         We reversed.[10] We held that the principles of Michigan v. Long and Harris v. Reed[11] "give[] to state courts control over the federal review of their opinions" by giving them the power to plainly state the grounds their decisions rest upon.[12] Because we were uncertain that the decision of the Texas Court of Criminal appeals turned on state law grounds, [13] we determined-as we were required to do-that Ruiz's petition rested on federal law and that "Ruiz's Wiggins claim was properly before the federal district court."[14] Ruiz then returned to the district court, which held an evidentiary hearing[15]-the first by any court-and determined that, while Ruiz had persuaded that his counsel's performance was deficient, he had failed to demonstrate the requisite prejudice.[16]

         We denied Ruiz's subsequent request for a certificate of appealability.[17]While the district court had conducted a de novo examination of Ruiz's Wiggins evidence, [18] we reviewed that evidence under the deferential standard of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This followed from our required resolution of uncertainty in the state court order in favor of federal jurisdiction.[19] We held that "Ruiz's new evidence bears scant resemblance to that adduced in Wiggins and Williams v. Taylor, cases in which the Supreme Court found prejudice" and that "[b]ecause there is no debatable issue on prejudice, we need not reach the question of whether Ruiz's trial counsel's failure to introduce the new habeas evidence at trial amounted to deficient representation."[20] The Supreme Court denied certiorari.[21]

         II.

         Ruiz then returned to the Texas courts with a third state habeas application. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution pending review before dismissing that petition late last year.[22] In that opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal appeals stated that "[the 2007 dismissal for abuse of the writ] did not address the merits of Ruiz's IAC claims" and characterized this Court's holding to the contrary as "an innovative way to allow the merits of Ruiz's IAC claims to be addressed by the federal district court."[23] According to Ruiz, these statements are evidence of a manifest error in our 2013 opinion. Ruiz avers that our decision that the Texas state courts had evaluated his Wiggins claims on the merits, and consequently that the § 2254(d) standard of review applied, is "clearly an error" in light of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals's statements to the contrary. Ruiz urges that this error requires this court to recall the mandate in order to prevent injustice.

         Our earlier decision was not erroneous. As we explained in our opinion, the writings of the separate and dissenting judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals left us uncertain that its decision was footed in state law.[24]The principles of Michigan v. Long and progeny required that we resolve that uncertainty in favor of federal jurisdiction.[25] We respect the recent repair to its order by that able court and its statement of what it intended in its original ruling. We respectfully disagree that its intent was then fully effectuated.

         Regardless, the fall of the error is now only a muse, for a contrary determination would not favor Ruiz, as we would then have not had jurisdiction to hear those claims.[26] Ruiz appears to argue that there is a middle ground between the deferential standard necessitated by the state court's "on the merits" dismissal of his Wiggins claims and a finding that he had procedurally defaulted. Not so. The Supreme Court has held that § 2254(d) applies even where the state court issues a summary denial without an accompanying statement of reasons.[27] "When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary."[28]Our holding that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his petition on the merits necessarily triggered the deferential standard he faced under § 2254(d) when he returned six years later. In short, Ruiz's Wiggins claims have run their course and are drained of purchase.

         Ruiz's motion to withdraw the mandate is denied.

         IN THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS

         EX PARTE ROLANDO RUIZ

         WR-27, 328-03

         ON APPLICATION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS IN CAUSE NO. 92-CR-6718B FROM THE 227' DISTRICT COURT OF BEXAR COUNTY

          Per Curiam. WOMACK, J., filed a statement respecting the dismissal of the application. Holcomb, J., filed a statement dissenting to the dismissal of the application in which ...


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